Grace is at least given a much richer personal history, which is slowly teased out. At first, it seems she is just overprotective and controlling of her father’s life. Then, she appears jealous, as she reacts poorly to Howard’s relationship with Annie and the joy he seems to take in becoming part of Annie’s large, boisterous family. But eventually, we realize this growing tension between Grace and Howard stems from a lifetime of neglect and emotional abuse. Her pain from the kind of unique wounds that can only be inflicted by a parent on their child.
Walker has the most difficult role here. Without alienating the audience, she must show Grace’s hurt, especially her anger. She does this mostly through body language; her constricted breathing clearly holding back years of anguish. Early on, her clipped sentences cut off just when she says something in mixed company that would make her appear to be the bad guy. It’s a dance she’s practiced for years, a trick anyone in this kind of abusive familial relationship knows all too well. When she does slip and say a little too much, it’s like she’s snuffed out oxygen for everyone in the room. And yet, there’s always a little bit of love left, stinging as it sticks in the back of her throat.
“My Sailor, My Love” is at its best in these moments where it explores Grace’s pain—when it shows how it has poisoned her ability to relate to others, be it the other women in group therapy, her co-workers, her husband, or even herself.
Unfortunately, because it also wants to be about the healing power of romantic love, Grace’s more nuanced storyline is shelved for long periods in favor of the more clichéd romantic beats of Howard and Annie’s story. And while their story wraps up in as mawkish a way as can be, at least “My Sailor, My Love” knows the final emotional beat belongs to Grace. It’s just too bad the filmmakers weren’t brave enough to make the whole film about her story, too.
Now playing in theaters.